Chicoutimi part 1: je ne parle pas français

I was looking for something to do for the May and June after my first year of university. I was working at camp for July and August and knew I couldn’t live at home doing nothing for two months. I came across a program called MyExplore online and made the impulsive decision to apply.

MyExplore is the Canadian government’s way of trying to make French more appealing. If accepted to the program (it’s a lottery), you get to live in a French community in Quebec for 5 weeks with a host family, totally funded. I was placed in Chicoutimi, a borough of the city Saguenay:

Chicoutimi, Quebec

Chicoutimi, Quebec

Now I’d like to start of my bragging about my impressive French skills. As all Canadian students, I took a French class for the mandatory six years before dropping it, meaning my last exposure to the language was when I was 15. Even at this age, I was really bad.

I met my host family on the first day. They spoke literally no English; we were a great match as I speak virtually no French. I maybe said 10 words in my first 24 hours.

As part of the program, I was in French classes for most of the day, which included conversation classes, field trips and sports. My vast vocabulary and fine-tuned grammar skills meant I was in the 15th best class, out of a total of 17. I’m actually impressed there were two levels below me – how could someone know less than me?

Oh I should also mention that speaking English was strictly forbidden. You could get sent home if you were caught. Fantastic.

For someone as chatty as me, this was unbelievably challenging. I had no idea what was going on. I thankfully made a friend in class who also didn’t understand anything, so we communicated solely through funny facial expressions.

Chicoutimi - La Baie 2

Some of the life changing friends in La Baie, Quebec. Please take note of how we are completely dry on that tiny island – pure magic, and shallow water. (June, 2014)

I actually learned so much French in those 5 weeks – definitely not fluent, but I could maintain a conversation – and now my goal is to someday be fluent in French. What I wasn’t expecting was to find a group of friends who completely changed my life and a beautiful, underrated and undiscovered area.


Chicoutimi at night – the city is divided in two by the Saguenay River. (May, 2014)

There are two reasons I’m doing a mini blog series on Chicoutimi (besides the fact that it would be the longest blog post in the history of the internet if I did it all in one). Moving to a community where I didn’t speak the language was terrifying, but I made it through and learned a lot about comfort zones – particularly through a series of misadventures. Second, it may be the best experience I’ve ever had. A lot of crazy things happened there and I will never forget the people I met and the things I saw, so I want to share some of those stories.

A sneak peak of stories to look forward to:

  • 5 weeks of no English and I’m better at charades than I am at French
  • Let’s have the girl who speaks no French organize and lead a field trip, what could go wrong?
  • Me vs. the rapids: my near death experience
  • Quebec is damn beautiful

– M


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